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Pi Scan Overview

Pi Scan is a simple and robust camera controller for book scanners. It was designed to work with the Archivist book scanner. For questions or help, visit the forum or email help at tenrec dot builders.

Translations: Espanol


  • Raspberry Pi 2 or Raspberry Pi 3
  • Two cameras (Canon PowerShot A2500 or Canon PowerShot ELPH 160 (aka IXUS 160) or Nikon 1 J5)
  • Three 4GB SD Cards (2 for cameras, 1 for Pi). One needs to be micro (for the Pi). The other two need to be standard sized or have adapters.
  • USB Storage device (either an SD Card Reader and fast SD Card or a thumb drive)
  • Input Devices (see below

Input Device Options

If at all possible, avoid using a USB hub. A significant chunk of issues that users have reported ended up being caused by some issue with a USB hub that was resolved when plugging devices into the Raspberry Pi directly.

One known issue is that USB input devices only work if they are plugged in before Pi Scan starts. If you plug them in later on or if they get unplugged, then you will have to restart Pi Scan to get them to work.


Pi Scan can be controlled entirely via a mouse and HDMI screen. This option is incompatible with touch but works with all other kinds of input. If you intend to use a mouse, download the mouse-compatible image of Pi Scan below.

Touch Screen

Pi Scan works with the official Raspberry Pi touch screen. This provides a more compact and self-contained scanner appliance. The touch option is incompatible with mouse input. If you want to use a touch screen, download the touchscreen-compatible image of Pi Scan.


Pi Scan can now be controlled entirely via a keyboard. Every button has a hotkey shown, usually a number. The keyboard works with both the touch screen and mouse versions of Pi Scan. To navigate previews with a keyboard, use '+', '-', and '0' to set the zoom level and move the viewport with WASD or the arrow keys. When scanning, use the space bar, 'b' or 'c' to capture.

USB Foot Pedal

Most cheap USB foot pedals emulate a keyboard and send the 'b' key by default. Because the 'b' key is a hot key for capture, USB foot pedals can be used to trigger page capture.

Industrial Foot Pedal

Industrial foot pedals are more robust than equivalently priced USB foot pedals. But they don't have the electronics to deal with the USB protocol. They can be wired up to two pins on the Raspberry Pi and Pi Scan will treat any connection between those pins as a trigger for capture when scanning. Note that this will only capture images on the scanning screen, not when setting focus, zoom level, or shutter speed. For details, refer to the Archivist Quill assembly manual.

Buttons and Microswitches

Any electrical connection between the GPIO21 and GND pins on the Raspberry Pi will cause a capture when scanning. So any button or microswitch can work as a scanning trigger if it is wired up properly.

Using Nikon 1 J5 cameras or other mirrorless/DSLRs

The latest version of Pi Scan includes gphoto2 and uses it to support a host of DSLR and mirrorless cameras (see list of supported cameras). Scanning using a DSLR works a bit differently than using a CHDK-supported Canon point and shoot camera.

With a DSLR, all configuration of the cameras including focus and zoom must be done manually by the user via the camera's standard interface. Pi Scan itself only triggers the capture of images and stores them together on the external storage. Most settings on a camera persist even when it is powered off. But if there are any settings that revert, you must be willing to reset them at the beginning of every session.

An additional advantage of using gphoto-compatible cameras is that if you specify a raw image output, Pi Scan will automatically fetch and collate the raw images alongside the JPEG files.

The high quality camera that we currently recommend is the Nikon 1 J5 camera. If you are unsure of which camera to get, then this is the one to pick. It is more likely to just work (it is the model of camera used for testing Pi Scan), and we are more likely to be able to provide effective support if it doesn't. In addition, it has an exceptionally long life. Many DSLRs are rated for just 100,000 shutter actuations. The Nikon 1 J5 cameras have much longer lifetimes, exceeding 1 million actuations.

Recommended settings for scanning with an Archivist Quill or Archivist using a Nikon 1 J5 camera:

  • Manual mode (M on the mode dial)
  • Shutter speed: 1/15 second
  • F-Stop: 5.6
  • ISO: 100
  • White Balance: Incandescent or us a gray card for custom set
  • Image Quality: JPEG fine or NEF (RAW) + JPEGfine
  • Image Size: L (5568x3712)
  • Auto distortion control: on
  • Focus mode: AF-A -- The Nikon 1 J5 camera uses area-based autofocus which means it should work well even on pages that are mostly blank. If necessary, the Nikon 1 J5 camera also has a manual focus mode. But the manual focus must be re-done every time the camera is powered off.
  • AF-area mode: Auto-area
  • Zoom: Zoom in until all four edges of the platen are just visible. Note that the Nikon 1 J5 loses the zoom setting on power off, so this must be set every session and you may end up with a slightly different zoom value from session to session. For this reason, it is a good idea to scan a whole book in a single session rather than splitting it between sessions.


Both Raspberry Pi 2 and Raspberry Pi 3 are supported. There are two variants. One version supports mouse input and any HDMI screen. The other version supports the official Raspberry Pi touch screen:

Two models of cameras are supported. Download the appropriate image for your camera:

Use these images at your own risk. These images may damage your camera. During early testing of the ELPH 160 image, one camera was bricked and the root cause of this problem was never definitively found. See this link.

Other CHDK-compatible cameras may or may not work. If you want to try it out, just install the full CHDK package for the appropriate camera and firmware you use. If it works then great. If not, then you might have to dig into the debug log, code, and CHDK forums to see why not. While I don't support other camera models myself, I am willing to accept pull requests with patches to make Pi Scan compatible with other cameras.


The software is packaged as whole disk images which need to be flashed onto SD cards of at least 4GB in size. Because nothing is stored on these images, the speed of the card doesn't matter.

Extract the images from the archives and use an appropriate tool to write them to the cards. Do not just copy the file onto the card. This will not work and you will be sad. If you are updating the camera cards, they may be locked. Before imaging them, you must unlock them. The little switch on the left must be in the top position.

Image Writing Tutorials:

Writing an SD Card on Windows

You will need:

  • Win32 Disk Imager (link)
  • An SD Card Reader
  • An SD Card (make sure the SD card is unlocked. The little switch on the left must be in the top position)
  • A disk image downloaded from a location above
  • At least 4GB of free disk space

The image you downloaded starts out as a compressed ZIP file. Right-click on it and select 'Extract all...' from the menu.

Pick a destination folder for the extracted file.

Insert SD Card into SD Card Reader.

Run Win32 Disk Imager. You will be asked if you want to allow it to make changes, click yes.

Inside of Win32 Disk Imager, click the little folder and find the image file you extracted before. Select it and click OK.

Select the drive where the SD card is mounted in the 'device' dropdown. Open up 'My Computer' or 'File Explorer' and verify that this is the correct drive.

Click the 'Write' button. This will delete everything on the card and write out the contents of the image out to the drive. So be absolutely sure you are writing to the place you think you are.

Using SD Cards

Once the images are installed, you will have three SD cards. One needs to be inserted into your Raspberry Pi 2. The other cards are for your cameras. The camera cards must now be locked. The little switch on the left must be in the bottom position.

When you turn on the cameras, a CHDK splash screen will briefly appear. This is how you know that everything went ok. If you do not see the splash screen, the cards are not locked or there was some other problem imaging the cards.

Sometimes when you turn on the cameras, a screen appears asking you to set the time and timezone. This will happen the first time you turn on the cameras, or if they have been unplugged for a long time. If this happens, disconnect the USB cable from the camera, use the keypad to set the date and time and dismiss these screens, then replug in the USB cable.

Plug the cameras into the Pi. Plug the SD card reader into the Pi. Plug a monitor, mouse, and (optional) keyboard into the Pi. Turn on the Pi. Note that there is no network mode for this software. It operates by directly connecting I/O devices into the Pi.


For an overview of how to use Pi Scan, see the tutorial video.

The Pi Scan operating system is completely read only. Everything is saved onto an external SD card that you can put into the SD card reader. Debug logs, configuration, and the actual scanned images all end up there. Whenever you go back to the start screen, Pi Scan will unmount the disk in the card reader so you can remove it safely or turn off the Pi.

There are many camera settings which are not yet user-configurable. These settings are set to values which assume you are using an Archivist book scanner.

Scanning Steps

  1. Boot up the Raspberry Pi. Once the Pi itself has booted you will see the Pi Scan starting screen. When on this screen, Pi Scan will eject your external disk so you can remove it. If you need to, you can also quit to console and log in using the username 'pi' and password 'raspberry' but for most users this won't be necessary.
  2. On the disk configuration page Pi Scan searches for and mounts your external storage. The external storage is used for configuration, debugging logs, and it is where the scanned images are saved. Plug in your USB drive or SD Card Reader and SD Card. After a few seconds, your drive will be detected and you will be able to tap next. If your drive is not detected, try unplugging and replugging the device.
  3. On the camera configuration page Pi Scan searches for two cameras attached via USB to the Pi. Once it finds them, you will be able to move on to the next step or, optionally, to set a zoom level for each camera.
  4. (Optional) Zoom settings can be set for each camera individually. Tap "test shot" to capture a photo from each camera and then adjust the zoom settings in the upper left and upper right corners. Don't worry if the pages are on the wrong side for now. When you've set the zoom level you like, tap done. The zoom setting is saved to the external storage, so as long as you keep using the same card, you won't have to re-adjust these settings.
  5. (Optional) Shutter speed can be set for each camera. If your photos are consistently too underexposed or overexposed, tweak the shutter speed.
  6. In order to keep camera focus consistent, Pi Scan will auto-focus once in each session and then lock that focus for the remainder of the shots. In order to get the best focus shot, you will want to press two pages against the platen of your scanner just as if you were scanning them and then tap 'Refocus'. Make sure that these pages have lots of text since the cameras have trouble focusing on just white space. Verify on the preview that the focus is good. You will also want to verify that the 'odd' page is pointing to an odd numbered page in your book and that the 'even' page is pointing to an even numbered page. If they are not, you can tap "swap" to swap the two pages. This will ensure that the pages are interleaved properly when scanning.
  7. During scanning, press pages against the platen and tap the 'Capture' button. After hearing the shutters on the camera, you can flip to the next page while Pi Scan is processing the photos. On your first scan, you will want to verify that everything looks good. You should also check periodically as you scan, epsecially for your first few books using Pi Scan. If you notice a problem during the scan, you can recapture the last two pages with the 'Rescan' button.
  8. Once scanning is complete, tap 'Done' to return to the start screen. Here you can remove your external storage and move the files from it to your computer. If you are scanning the same book in multiple sessions, Pi Scan will continue numbering images where you left off. If you move all of the images from the external storage, it will start saving at '0000.jpg' again.

After Capture

Pi Scan does just one part of the overall scanning workflow: managing capture. After using Pi Scan, you will have an SD card full of consecutively named JPEG files. Turning those files into an e-book is a process called Post Processing. There are many different kinds of software that can help you do this task. A good open source option is called ScanTailor.


In an ideal world, we wouldn't have to deal with this. In case you run into less than ideal circumstances, Pi Scan will produce error logs and messages to help you diagnose any problems you encounter. Pi Scan was designed to be robust in the presence of problems so if you do run into errors you should be able to get back to scanning with a minimum of fuss.

Capture Failure

Sometimes a camera might return an empty photograph or otherwise not capture successfully. When this happens, Pi Scan will notify you and neither camera image will be saved to disk. Tap 'Ok' on the notification and then tap 'Capture' to try again. If you notice this happening more frequently, note down the error that you see and notify help at tenrec dot builders about the issue. Occasionally, a camera might get into a bad state where every attempted capture fails. If a few captures in a row fail, try turning the camera off and on by hand.

Camera Crash

Occasionally, a camera will crash or get disconnected. Pi Scan cannot tell the difference between these two events so it always assume that getting disconnected is a crash. When Pi Scan thinks there has been a crash, it pops up a camera debug screen. It will tell you which camera is disconnected, and the last thing it was trying to do when it happened. Reconnect or power cycle the camera and it should detect that the camera is back online. When the camera is back, you can tap 'Get Debug Log' and it will save the debug log for the most recent crash to your external storage in the debug directory. You can send this debug log and the error message you saw on the debug screen to help at tenrec dot builders.

Once all cameras are connected again, you can tap 'Ok' to get back to scanning. You will need to go through the 'refocus' screen again first to make sure that the focus is set properly.

Pi Scan Crash

Hopefully you will never see Pi Scan itself crashe, but if you do there is a special crash debug page which shows what happened. Send a photograph of this page to help at tenrec dot builders so it can get fixed.

Error Log

An error log of every camera failure and crash is saved to your removable storage. This means that even if you tap Ok quickly and miss the message, you can still go back and see the details later. If you are getting persistent failures or problems, it is worth sending this error log to help at tenrec dot builders.


Always rememeber that you cannot corrupt Pi Scan by rebooting so if there are ever any problems you cannot resolve or the system stops responding completely, you can always just unplug and replug the Raspberry Pi to get back to scanning. The only danger is that your external storage will not have been unmounted cleanly so if you do have to pull the power and reboot be sure to check the scans you have already made to make sure they are all there and that you can open them normally.

Version Notes

  • 1.5 -- Added support for gphoto2 (list of supported cameras), SD cards larger than 32 GB.
  • 1.0 -- Added shutter speed adjustment, support for trigger via GPIO pins, full keyboard support, touch screen support, an upgrade mechanism, beep on error, focus when zooming, many crashes, and more.
  • 0.7 -- Added page numbers during capture. Fixed ISO and shutter speed settings. Attempt to fix camera crashes when entering alt mode. Add Pi Scan crash detection for preview and camera threads.
  • 0.6 -- Fixed preview rotation. Images were being shown upside down.
  • 0.5 -- Fixed page numbering issues. Added zoom adjustment UI.
  • 0.4 -- Detect when the /debug and /images directories fail to get created and note the problem in the storage screen.
  • 0.3 -- Add more crash detection and a screen which displays the error in case of unexpected exceptions
  • 0.2 -- Fix issues with spaces in path names and when writing error logs.
  • 0.1 -- Initial release


Pi Scan is a simple, robust capture appliance for book scanners. It runs on a Raspberry Pi 2.







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